The Life and Death of the World’s Greatest Alt-Weekly: ‘The eXile’

A piece by James Verini in this month’s Vanity Fair profiles the “The eXile” — the now-defunct Russian alt-weekly founded by Mark Ames and bolstered by the early work of Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi. The eXile was shut down by Russian authorities in 2008, after a nearly twelve-year run of drugs, debauchery and the best enterprise journalism to come out of Russia since the end of the Cold War.

In its time The Exile was arguably the most abusive, defamatory, un-evenhanded, and crassest publication in Russia, and Ames and his staff had paid for that fact, or at least for the fact that they were arrogant reprobates, many times before. Columnist Edward Limonov, the 66-year-old political provocateur in whom the Federal Service officials were particularly interested, filed his copy from prison for two years after being convicted of possessing arms, which he admits he intended to smuggle into Kazakhstan in an effort to incite a coup there. Writer Kevin McElwee, an American expatriate, had both legs broken when he was torn from the side of a building he was scaling to escape an angry mob of Muscovites, an incident that had nothing to do with anything he’d written-McElwee, The Exile’s film reviewer, was just a rambunctious drunk. On another occasion, a deranged and slighted man sent a letter promising to kill the “frat boy” Ames. Ames in turn published an editorial urging the loon to instead off his co-editor, Matt Taibbi.

For a story about a paper that folded nearly two years ago, Verini’s piece is loaded with high drama. Due to a falling out with Ames in 2002, Taibbi was not happy about this piece being written and threw a cup of coffee Verini’s face during an interview.

Chased from Russia after his paper collapsed, Ames now lives in New York and writes for The Nation and the Daily Beast.

L.A. too has its own piece of the Exile. Former editor Yasha Levine is currently stationed in the L.A. exurb of Victorville, penning dispatches on everything from the housing crisis to California’s shady water politics.

Ames and Levine still run a web version of their paper at

Photo Illustration: Vanity Fair